Traveling with young children demands a large dose of patience, the ability to shift plans on the fly, and a generous sprinkling of slap-stick humor. This past summer, my husband and I loaded up the car, popped in the kids, and went wandering for the entire month of June. It was not a trip for the faint-hearted. It was not a trip we’ll ever forget.
On our winding drive from Massachusetts to Orlando, we stopped to visit uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, and grandparents. There was a lot of love, a lot of adventure. But there were also a lot — a lot — of bumps. There were flat grey skies, and rumble-red moods. There were missed turns and U-turns and turning around to watch as our highway exit faded sadly into the distance.
There was the Diet Coke disaster, where twenty-four ounces of badly-needed caffeine ended up in my lap, a sticky-cold bath. I learned how to clean projectile vomit from the roof of the car, and how to stop myself from hyperventilating in truck stop restrooms. Public restrooms are never my forte — my imagination is just too good at summoning the contours of every contaminate or germ. But the bladders of a four-year old and a seven-year old don’t bow to convenience or cleanliness, and we stopped in some fairly wretched places. I suppose Valium might have helped.
If it wasn’t broken toilets, it was flies around the diner booth. Or tears over ice cream flavors. Or sisterly spats in the back of a car that seemed to shrink with every lung-clearing bellow.
But all the spills, the vomit, the brawls and band aids paled in comparison to the North Carolina flat worm that attached itself, vampire-like, to Boo Monkey’s calf half-way through the trip. I pulled it off, Boo and I both screaming. We called the doctors — local and distant. We checked the internet. We cleaned and iced her leg. And my sister-in-law, bless her soul forever, poured kitchen cognac on that worm until it was three steps deader than dead. We were calm in front of Boo Monkey, but when her back was turned, we gagged silently and shivered, and then poured a bit more cognac.
Like I said, the trip had bumps. And if that long string of days had been nothing more than worms and worry, I would have tossed the towel and turned around. Luckily, our families pulled us forward, bright beads along the string. They offered cozy beds, scrumptious food, and laundry machines, playgrounds and pools and late-night chats.
A family vacation can bring out the best and the worst in everyone. It can also tumble the walls of the everyday, the routines that keep us, lock-step, in our roles and patterns. Together, we dove in the ocean and saved cannonball jellyfish from the beach. We survived the ogre librarian (who was later conquered by Nana). We told jokes over traffic jams and sang crazy car songs and played endless games of The Minister’s Cat.
We found the funny in days that seemed nothing more than restless discontent. At the zoo, Rainbow Girl asked why there were so many mama lions and baby lions but only one daddy lion. My husband and I shared a frozen moment of panic before we came up with a suitably vague but satisfying answer. When Boo-Monkey saw the Georgia billboards for strip-clubs, she said, “Look mama, they sell ladies at that store.” Sometimes, we just bit our tongues.
And we kept driving. Because that’s what you do, on a car trip, on a vacation, or on a rainy day at home when math lessons are a drudgery and the dog throws up and the computer’s hard drive crashes. Ultimately, our long and winding family vacation was a lesson in how to stick together when the day falls apart. And that, by any standards, was worth the soda bath and the lingering smell of car vomit and even, but just barely, a duel with a flatworm.
Next time, though, I’m bringing Valium to get me through those truck stops.
What are your best and worst family vacation stories — involving worms, or otherwise? Please share!